Antojitos Edinburgh: Mexican street food sensation that started on mum’s driveway

If you haven’t yet had an Antojitos, you’re probably in the minority.

You’ve no doubt stumbled across the Mexican vegan street food sensation on your social media timelines, seen them pop up at various events, or had your pals plead with you to join you at their residence down at the iconic Dog House in Newington.

And after landing a prestigious Street Food Award on account of their incredible quesadillas, they’re now at Sleazy’s Glasgow too, while having recently launched in London after getting invited to appear at the famous Camden Market, following on from appearances at various events across the country, including the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yet, such revered parking spots for the food truck throughout Scotland and beyond is a far cry from where it all started, just 18 months ago, on chef and founder John Kelly’s mum’s driveway.

Speaking to Edinburgh Live, he talked about how Antojitos quickly ‘grew arms and legs’ – from the most humble of beginnings.

Mexican Snacks
Antojitos has a residence at The Dog House

When asked if he expected the idea to take off as fast as it has, John said: “No, absolutely not.

“Me and my sister bought a food truck and on the first weekend, we parked on my mum’s driveway and invited all of our family to come round and try it. We didn’t really tell anyone about it and on the day we got a queue round the corner after word of mouth spread locally in this wee village in Coatbridge. Someone tried it and told their neighbour, they came round and tried and told someone else. We sold out in three hours!

“Then we started going to some street food markets like The Pitt in Edinburgh, then got invited other places. Every weekend it just got busier and busier and it was brilliant.

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“We had to stop for around five months because we crashed the truck and it got completely written off.

“Then we did gazebo set ups at street food markets to see how it went and save up money to get a truck. But due to the success when we relaunched, we ultimately bypassed the need for the truck.

“When we won the Street Food Awards in June 2021, that was only our third time back out in the gazebo. We then got offered a pitch at Edinburgh Fringe then off of that got offered a residency at The Dog House. It just all grew arms and legs from a couple of events and a gazebo looking pure amateur as you like.”

John previously had roles as a head chef and kitchen manager for around 10 years.

Mexican Snacks
Antojitos has now expanded to new locations in Glasgow and London

A fan of Latin American cuisine, it was a decision to go veggie – and the lack of Mexican food choices for non-meat eaters – that set him on the path to go solo, giving birth to Antojitos.

John explained: “I never really had a job that could cure the itch of wanting to develop my own recipes and build my own menu, but my role and my passion was in cooking.

“I went vegetarian around three years ago and my favorite kind of food at that point was always Mexican and South American food. As soon as I went vegetarian I realized all my favorite restaurants didn’t really have any valid veggie options outside of rice and beans.

“Part of the excitement about turning vegetarian was finding all these alternatives to my favorite recipes and stuff. Mexican food is the thing I found translated really well – the reliance isn’t on the meat side of the dish.

“Ultimately, when push came to shove I thought ‘well, I’m just going to do it myself!’ Lockdown gave me the opportunity to go for it so I just did.”

John was initially faced with a bit of resistance to the idea of ​​meat-free Mexican on social media, but as he told us, the majority of Antojitos fans aren’t vegans – whether it’s meat or meatless is immaterial when you’re faced with authentic, flavour-packed street food.

Mexican Snacks
Antojito’s quesadillas have won awards

He said: “From a vegan point of view it’s something very specific and quite niche, it does address a need. I can’t have been the only person going to these popular city center restaurants and getting a mushroom taco.

“But all of our most regular customers aren’t vegans, they’re meat-eaters. To start with we very subtle about being vegan, as when we were posting on social media about coming to town, we’d get abuse from people saying ‘it’s a shame you don’t cater to meat-eaters’.

“People would come, try it and the feedback’s been almost universally positive.

“No matter where we were, we had the same people coming every time. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but when people try it, they like it and they want more of it.”

And when asked what the most popular menu items are, John immediately went for Antojito’s award winner that you’ve no doubt seen teased out regularly on the street food spot’s Instagram feed, among dozens of other highly photogenic and mouthwatering meals.

He added: “Our signature dishes are the quesadillas and the signature quesadillas are our seitan barbecue ones. It’s smoky barbecue, coated in barbecue spices and we crammed it in a quesadilla. That’s the one that won us the Scottish Street Food award.

“I think with Mexican food people are a bit tired of burritos and chilli bowls, so I think doing something not a million miles away, but still different enough and still authentic, handheld street food, people are receptive of it.”

And with such a rapid expansion that’s seen John and his team travel to most corners of the UK not even two years after serving their first taco, is a standalone restaurant on the menu for Antojitos?

John said: “Right now I’m stopping for breath!

“Edinburgh Dog House is a great base for operations and we can still go and do the street food style of things.

“An email landed in my inbox one day from the people who run Camden Market asking if we wanted to open up down in London and we couldn’t say no to that.

“And then the opportunity for Sleazy’s in Glasgow came up as well!

“It was never the intention to rapidly expand like this, but I didn’t want to say no to these opportunities.

“Right now we’re going to focus on these three sites and we’re being quite selective with doing certain street food places like The Pitt, The Big Feed in Glasgow, we’re never going to say no to them. We’ll do the odd pop up here and there, but the focus is on growing the existing sites.

“I’ve got a lot of time and a lot of time for the people who run these bars and let us be in their kitchen. We want to support them as much as they support us. I want to be here as long as it’s feasible for all parties. It really does work for us all.”

It’s pretty clear John has been working non-stop since spontaneously serving up delicious Mexican dishes for his mum’s neighbors in the middle of lockdown. But despite the demands, he’s not too desperate for a day off.

He said: “I can’t complain. I’m absolutely obsessed with it. It’s really captured my imagination, I’m really passionate about it.

“It never really feels like work. I still go to bed every night thinking ‘I love this’.”

You can find Antojitos at The Dog House on 18-24 Clerk St, Newington, Edinburgh, EH8 9HX

To see more of the award-winning food they’re serving, you can following Antojitos on Instagram here.

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